The Breast Fest

by DaniGirl on October 10, 2007 · 21 comments

in Mothering without a licence

I’m sure you’ve seen the dust-ups about breastfeeding in public recently. Bill Maher, Applebees, Facebook, even the YMCA have proven themselves unfriendly to nursing mothers just in the past couple of months.

I’m not going to add to the millions of pixels of righteous – and rightful – anger that have been dedicated to this argument already. Breastfeeding is a woman’s right, and a beautiful thing, and lunch for an innocent baby, and I find it inconceivable that there are calls for a woman to be “discreet” while nursing in a world that encourages boys to wear pants that sag low enough to show a plumber’s crack and thirteen year old girls to dress like hookers. I’ve seen some pretty disgusting feeding behaviour at the local fast food joint, and yet nobody’s putting a blanket over their heads as they cram sauce-dripping big macs into their pie-holes and chew with their mouths open. (Okay, maybe I had just a few pixels of vitriol to add to the debate.)

I had intended to post a picture of me nursing one of the boys today, to play along with the Great Virtual Breast Fest. I gave myself a week’s lead time, and left reminders for myself — but still forgot to dig out the old pictures. S’okay, though, because I like to think I’m pretty good at painting a picture with all these wordy-words of mine.

Breastfeeding did not come easily to me. It was, in a word, hell. From the first day of his life, nursing Tristan was a challenge. He was born at 9:00 in the morning after more than 27 hours of sleepless labour, and I remember being on the maternity ward with him when he was about six hours old, absolutely stupefied with exhaustion and terror, and the nurse coming in to ask me if I’d fed him. I blinked at her as the guilt swelled up for the first time in my parenting career – barely a quarter of a day into a lifetime – and told her I didn’t know how. She clucked her disapproval, shoved the baby onto my breast, and walked away.

That night, a kinder nurse used wet facecloths to torture poor, sleepy and not-quite-one-day-old Tristan into enough wakefulness to get him to latch on. We had to do this every three hours, all night long, and it took about 45 minutes to wake him up enough just to get him to latch every time. I was petrified to go home and leave behind the kindly nurse with the wet washcloth. I simply didn’t feel ready to handle it on my own.

The first two weeks of his life, we made every-second-day trips to the lactation clinic at the hospital to adjust the latch and have him weighed. I would cry with the pain every time he latched on, and he would spit up my blood after every feed. He came dangerously close to being labelled with the ominous “failure to thrive” as he continued to not gain weight. My poor husband and my visiting mother tried a few times to suggest that I capitulate and give him some formula, that I had tried my best, that he would still be fine raised on formula as millions of babies are.

And yet, I dug in my heels. When Tristan was five weeks old and had finally regained enough weight, the ped gave me permission to stop setting the alarm for myself so I could wake Tristan for a feed every third hour throughout the night. After endless tubes of lansinoh, the latch had gone from excruciating to sore, and I could handle that. And then we got thrush. That, too, passed.

When Tristan was four months old, just when nursing moved from torture to tolerable, the ped suggested we start supplementing with forumula because Tristan was having serious problems with reflux and not gaining enough weight. Oh the irony, that these large breasts of mine – a bane through my whole life from their first appearance in grade school – would betray me yet again by not producing enough milk to satisfy my son. For another five months, I gave him two bottles a day and nursed him the rest of the time. By the time he was eight months old, we were down to one ritual morning feed, more of a comfort nurse than a nutritional one, and had to spend the entire day on Christmas day at the ER when he had a wicked fever. We had nothing packed for him to eat, but somehow my beleaguered breasts stood up for the task and I managed to produce enough milk to satisfy him for the entire day.

He weaned himself around 10 months, and Simon was conceived six months later. I had hoped nursing would be easier the second time, but it wasn’t – at least, not to start. More blood, more cracked nipples, and this time a voracious 10 lbs baby who wanted to feed every two hours. No wet facecloths were ever required to entice Simon to a meal. I nursed him until he was 16 months old, a good four months after I had gone back to work after the end of my maternity leave.

Breastfeeding was never the zen, earth-mama, natural experience I had been told it would be. It was painful, physically and emotionally. It caused vicious late-night arguments between sleep-deprived and emotionally overwhelmed parents. It was bloody hard work for all of us.

And yet, it’s one of the things I most look forward to. I know the first little while will be painful, and scary. But when it settles into a routine, nursing a baby can be a wonderful thing. And I’ll nurse this baby anywhere I damn well please to do so. I’ve nursed the boys in the mall, at the park, at the community centre, in a truck stop, in a restaurant… all without the benefit of hiding under some sort of tent.

Check out the League of Maternal Justice today for some links to other moms (and dads) who are joining the Great Breast Fest today.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 yvonne October 10, 2007 at 8:02 am

I also found breastfeeding for my first to be very hard. I think it is misleading to tell women that it is the most natural choice. Is it best for the baby? Absolutely. But both mother and child have to “learn”. It is not instinct and it can be extremely painful at first. If we told new moms that it would help them feel less like a failure at a very stressful time in their lives. Like you, though, I would not have traded it for the world.

2 alison October 10, 2007 at 8:12 am

It’s hard to believe that in this day and age that there is such a sizeable population that cannot separate the body from sex. Breastfeeding is not obscene or even remotely sexual in nature.

I breastfed both my girls. With my eldest, I was shy, retreating into a bedroom to nurse at family gatherings, nursing in the car in the mall parking lot before going in to shop, and in one epiphanous (is that a word?) episode that changed my mind about hiding away, I breasfed my daughter in a stall in the ladies room of a Chinese restaurant in Sudbury. Nobody should have to eat in the bathroom.

By the time I had my second daughter, I was no longer shy. I breastfed in restaurants, museums, malls, on trains and on the Greyhound bus Via put us on when a train derailment interrupted our trip back from Windsor. At one point, when visiting friends I ended up giving an impromptu breastfeeding workshop in the living room — explaining what I was doing to 5 assorted children under the age of 6, while their amused moms (my girlfriends) looked on. It was kind of funny afterward to see the youngest boy with his shirt pulled up, feeding his stuffed sock monkey. I just decided that it was nothing to be ashamed of. And maybe I was lucky, but no one ever complained or asked me to stop. And a good thing too, or I would have ripped them a new one, lol.

3 Urban Pedestrian October 10, 2007 at 8:16 am

Wow – kudos to you for hanging in there. For me it was unbelievably easy. She popped out and was put right on the breast and latched on like…. like she was born to it. Mind you, she did want to be fed every two hours round the clock, so it was exhausting

4 Barbara October 10, 2007 at 8:17 am

This was a good, honest post. Good for you for sticking it out! So far I’ve posted some pictures – my favourite is of Reid nursing while dressed in her pig costume when she was 3 months old – and I’ve made a lunch date with myself to write her a letter and post it on my blog.

I wish that when women were told that breastfeeding is natural, they were also told that it is natural like sex is natural – sometimes you have to work at it for it to be good for both of you.

5 JoJo October 10, 2007 at 8:30 am

Breastfeeding was so difficult for me. Amelia had a lazy latch that I tried tirelessly to correct. My milk supply was low so I took domperidone, blessed thistle and fenugreek and pumped after every.single.feed and fed her with a lact-aid strapped to my breast.

I fed wherever, whenever. I was even more empowered because I was working so hard to do this that I would be damned if someone was going to make me feel awful. God help the person who said a word to me.

Amelia nursed for 2 years and 1 month. I had to wean as I didn’t have any milk left and the nursing for comfort was killing my poor breasts. It only took two days, but she will still ask me every once in awhile if she can nurse. It was hard so with the next baby I will…do again in a heartbeat.

6 Loukia October 10, 2007 at 9:01 am

Great post Dani. You’re so great with your words. For me, and God knows how, breastfeeding came really easy. And I always thought I would never breastfeed! My son fed all the time – on his own schedule, not every 3 hours – and that was fine with me, too. I stopped breastfeeding him when he was 6 months old. We had to get him used to the bottle from around 4 months old because I was going back to work – I wasn’t permanent and so those were the rules I had to follow to get my job back at CRA – anyway – it was sad to wean… but glad I did it for as long as I did. And now, I hope the second time around is just as wonderful. I also breastfed wherever I had to, but I tend to be more shy, so instead of breastfeeding one time in Starbucks/Chapters, I took my son to my car to feed him there. I try to cover up, but that’s for me, I’m doing it for my privacy.

7 Veronica October 10, 2007 at 10:50 am

This is very similar to my own experience breastfeeding. Nursing my third baby was easier, at least in the beginning (, but we are having supply issues now.

8 lugina October 10, 2007 at 11:15 am

Amen! I just had my third baby boy and, sadly, have given up on breastfeeding. He’s two months old. I’ve not had a successful breastfeeding relationship with any of my boys. I definitely think we need more information – no one tells you how hard and draining it can be. I think C-sections, medications, jaundiced babies and numerous other issues contributed to my problems. I did much better this time, but it still wasn’t good enough.
I have a friend who just had her third baby as well and nursing has always been a piece of cake for her. I have to say that I’ve always been jealous!
Bravo for sticking it out with your first!! Your story is truly inspiring. My reasons for stopping are numerous, but the main reasons are my first two. They are 14 and 7 (it’s a seven year itch) and the amount of time I was spending “working” on nursing the baby, the less time I had for them. Basically, at this point, formula and bottles is best for the whole family.
Good luck with baby number three and feed him whenever and wherever he likes!!

9 Rebecca October 10, 2007 at 11:23 am

I’m not even sure what to post here. Let me begin by saying I am all for breastfeeding, anytime, anywhere, and a baby absolutely has the right to eat in public, just as the mother has a right to feed.

That said, I have an 11 yr old son who is mentally and emotionally unable to separate a breast feeding an infant from a breast as a sexual object. It’s the nature of the adolescent male beast. It wasn’t until my son began noticing nipples and whatnot when women would begin to feed in public that I decided that those tent things are not only a good idea, but they can be necessary (sometimes). I can explain all the breastfeeding arguments to my son until my lips fall off, but to him, a breast is a breast is a breast and he’ll feel that way for a long time to come. At his age, I’d rather he not see anyone’s breasts.

I’m sure this offends a lot of people, but in this mom’s eyes – the mom of a normal, healthy male adolescent – it’s just how life is. My views on this subject are going to differ from the majority of pro-breastfeeding moms (and I AM pro-breastfeeding) simply due to my boy’s reaction. If it’s all covered, it’s all good. That’s not the problem, it’s the ones who pull it out without concern for who is present that give me concerns.

I hope I haven’t offended, and I apologize if I have, but in light of my experieces with an older man child, I feel the need to explain why it really is a good idea to at least cover up sometimes.

10 jo(e) October 10, 2007 at 11:35 am

I think one of the reasons learning to breastfeed was easy for me is that I had seen my mother, my sister, and my friends breastfeed. It’s something I’d seen my whole life. I think it really, really helps if you’ve watched other women feed their babies.

I think women who breastfeed in public do a service by educating younger members of their community about the practice.

I have three teenage boys (ages 13, 16, and 19) who have been around breastfeeding so much that it doesn’t phase them at all.

11 meanie October 10, 2007 at 11:58 am

i wish i had known you when i was gong through this with my first girl! we had a horrible time, she wouldn’t latch. i set the alarm every two hours and pumped for her. when i walked into the room where the pump was, i would “let down” – isn’t that sad? i was near a complete breakdown when the lactation consultant i was seeing twice weekly, sometimes three times, just said that maybe it just wasn’t going to work. i gave up. i gave her formula. i cried, i felt judged everytime i pulled out a bottle in public. someone in the neighbourhood likened feedng my child formula to giving her Macdonald’s everyday. it sort of ruined the first part of my year as a first time mommy. i’m over it now, pretty much completely. with the second girl, the same problems ensued. she enjoyed three days of sort-of breasfeeding of then was introduced to formula. everyone was happy.
good for you for sticking in there – it can be so hard (and it is so frustrating when it comes to easily to some)

12 Urban Pedestrian October 10, 2007 at 1:22 pm

Rebecca, I totally understand the relationship between the North American male and boobies, but by making a nursing mother cover up because your son automatically sexualizes women when he sees a bit of flesh is akin to fundamentalist Muslims telling women to make sure they’re fully covered when going out in public so they don’t give men crazy ideas. Because men are men and can’t control themselves, so there’s no telling what could happen, right? You understand that something has to change in your son’s perceptions, right? It’s not breastfeeding women who have to hide away in shame to feed their babies so they don’t charge up your son’s hormones. By trying to “protect” him from female flesh you’re just feeding into his perception. He has to learn to see women as people, mothers, human beings — not just sexual objects.

13 lugina October 10, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Rebecca – you make a valid point. My oldest is 14 and was very uncomfortable with me breastfeeding his infant brother. My husband was 16 when his youngest brother was born and was also uncomfortable with his mother breastfeeding. It is what it is. And what it is, I think, is hormones and there is absolutely nothing you can do about that.
So, in my own home, I would cover up most of the time in order to preserve my teenager’s comfort. If you can cover up a little and still take care of your baby’s needs, why not? I’m pro breastfeeding in general and pro breastfeeding in public, but there’s really no reason to not be discreet if you can. Why not be just as concerned about other people’s comfort as your own? When I think of women breastfeeding in public, it’s always in a discreet fashion. I think most women cover up in my area anyway so it’s a not a big deal when we’re out and about.
I don’t think it feeds his perception by seeing women discreetly breastfeed in public. He understands what breasts are for and certainly that women are human beings. I’m certain that he’ll be supportive in the future if the mother of his children chooses to breastfeed.
All that said, a lot of places I visit have “mother’s rooms” or “family rooms” where women can go to breastfeed comfortably in private.

14 Kathryn October 10, 2007 at 2:21 pm

Thank you for posting about the Great Virtual Breast Fest. I posted a pic on my blog.
Also, today is the first time I am visiting your blog, and I must comment on your letter to your “daughter who will never be” letter. I couldn’t stop crying. I have had those same thoughts, but could never put words to it. So beautiful. I commented on that post today too, but just wanted to let you know here how amazing it is, just in case you didn’t see it.

15 Rebecca October 10, 2007 at 3:03 pm

Thank you, Lugina. I knew someone would be offended at how I feel, so it’s nice that someone actually understands. Of course he knows that breastfeeding is natural, but like I said before… his age and animal instinct are really hard to override at this time. He’ll learn as he gets older, just like the rest of us did. He knows he was nursed for as long as I could manage, and he appreciates that, but on the flip side, he’s not at an age where it matters… a woman has her breast out, he’s uncomfortable. As you said, it is what it is. Anyway, thanx for the support there. šŸ™‚

Urban Pedestrian… I find it interesting that you feel I should change my child’s natural instincts and feelings. Why are your child’s needs more important than mine? He’s 11 – how he feels is completely normal and natural at this age and he may not be an infant, but his needs are absolutely as important as any other child’s. I haven’t, not once, asked anyone not to breastfeed – but being discreet is absolutely not too much to ask. Certainly as he ages he will begin to understand that the female breast is for more than sex, but at 11 it’s simply not going to happen. Just as I respect your right to raise your child as you see fit, I expect you to respect my right to raise mine as I see fit. I see absolutely nothing wrong with discreet breastfeeding. As I said before, as respectfully as I could manage, I think am pro-breastfeeding. Just please be cool about it and not flash your boobs at my son.

16 Kellan October 10, 2007 at 3:33 pm

Great post! I just don’t understand what is going on in our screwed up society!! Well written and well said, thanks.

17 Kate October 10, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Thanks for posting this. I so admire people who plugged away at it despite the pain and frustration!

Although the last thing Teh Internets is more of my rhapsodizing about breastfeeding, I did it anyway. šŸ™‚

18 DaniGirl October 10, 2007 at 6:46 pm

Thanks, all, for your comments. I appreciate everyone’s perspective, and especially your respectful debate.

Rebecca, I don’t think anyone was offended by what you said – I certainly wasn’t – but I do think I disagree with you. But that’s okay, too. Disagreement is fine – makes for interesting debate.

The basic issue here really is that question of discretion and whether or not a nursing mother should feel obligated to be particularly discreet – and how do you define that discretion. IMHO, if someone doesn’t like it when a boob pops out or is uncomfortable with it, they should just not look.

And Kathryn – thank you! That’s one of my favourite posts, too.

19 Kathleen in Ottawa October 11, 2007 at 11:40 am

I was leaving this overnight to avoid saying anything inflammatory, but now I discover my humble opinion is lined up with you, Dani – you said exactly what I wanted to about Rebecca’s post.
And I’m hoping you have an easier time with the breast feeding this time. I almost feel guilty for how well it has been working for me and my girls.

20 Bex October 12, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Hey Dani… walking around Square One mall today I saw a gigantic poster about breastfeeding… and about how encouraged it is to do right there in the mall. so while (unsuccessfully) trying to find a link to the poster on the peel regional helath website, I stumbled on this

btw- the poster did not show any flesh, and didn’t have a blanket over the babies either… it actually looked more like the “mommy models” were simply holding their child next to their clothed breats, but whatever- point being, I was pretty darn impressed to see it, and couldn’t wait to tell ya about it!

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